The Practice of Being Ourselves



“Mom, can I watch Youtube?”

“Mom, can I have a snack?”

“Mom, can I buy this book?”

My children are constantly asking me for permission to do just about everything in their routines. Mostly, it’s just out of habit. “Mom, can I go to the bathroom?” Um, yes, yes, please do, and really, you don’t need to ask. Other times it’s because they have decided it may be a good idea to microwave metal objects and we’ve asked them to please solicit adult opinions before proceeding with their wild experiments.

Some days, it is as rote as breathing to dole out permission to my kids. Other days, I pause incredulously: “Seriously? These real-live-human-beings are depending on ME to make all of these decisions for them? Someone made ME in charge of giving all of this permission?! Surely, there has been a grave error.”

Mothers are not immune to the imposter syndrome. We too, are afraid of being found out we were never worthy of this job.

Giving permission seems to be the responsibility of a King or a Queen, the CEO of a publicly traded company, super-smart human beings or the gatekeepers of very important things. It can’t possibly land on the shoulders of ordinary me. No, not me. I just shuffle along my everyday tasks, doing chores, running errands and just trying to make it through to bedtime. I can give permission to my kiddos wanting a snack after school, but no one else needs permission from me to do brave things.

Or so I tell myself.

And yet, I know that long after I have left childhood behind, I am still searching for permission. I put forth my opinions before others and hold my breath as I wait for their response. Searching their eyes, facial expressions and body posture, I am seeking validation, something that tells me, Hey, it’s okay. You get to be you. I crave affirmation from my friends, covet inclusion from my community and desire approval from my husband and children.

Before you judge me to be too needy, let’s remember that needing one another’s acceptance is not a sign of weakness, but a normal and necessary requirement of living in relationship with people. We belong to each other by creating intentional space for each other, giving permission for others to take up space in our lives.

I think the world is hungering for permission. I think so many of us bury much of our potential for fear of rejection and failure. We’d much rather be the person who we think is acceptable in the eyes of our community than to be who we actually are. I think we need to learn to ask for permission more freely. We need to practice being more fully ourselves in front of our people and say, This is who I am. Will you let me in? We cannot force ourselves into the lives of other people, we have to ask; and we have to come as we are.

As well, and perhaps more importantly, we have to learn to give permission. Like the spiritual discipline of prayer or generosity or hospitality, we need to embrace the discipline of giving permission. I think there are three general areas we need to exercise giving permission:

1) Encouragement. This is the art of paying attention to the uncovered gifts of those around us. This is being the cheerleader and putting on courage for our neighbors to pursue their dreams and passions. This is helping people young and old, to benefit the world with their unique contributions. It looks like me telling my sister she has a remarkable writing voice and my brother he has raw talent in his doodles and designs.
2) Validation. The dictionary definition of validate is: “to show to be true.” Decision making and risk taking are the inevitable elements of life. We can take those steps of faith with more confidence when we factor in the counsel of those who know us. One way we give permission is to validate, to mirror the truth-iness of each other’s life choices. When the working mom comes to us with tears of missing her children’s school events, we give her permission to be who she has chosen to be and reflect her courage to pursue a career back to her. To show to be true.
3) Rest. I find we need permission the most when we need to rest. I love stories of employers who strictly enforce time off for their employees. We need space to breathe, space to rest, space to be nothing except a human being. Learning to give one another margin to be a slacker for a day, to play hooky with a friend or to retreat for a girls’ night out is sometimes the most gracious gift we can offer.

Permission to stop being an adult for one day. Granted.

Unless my children are asking for something that is harmful for them, I almost always say yes. Yes, you may have a snack, yes you may build a fort out of cereal boxes, yes you may buy this book.

I want their lives to be filled with yeses, granted permission at every turn.

I hope this generosity of permission seeps out into the world beyond my home and I can offer those whom I encounter the ever open invitation to be authentically who they were created to be.